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Alan Hunter - the Chief Inspector George Gently books   

I came across the first three books in the Chief Inspector George Gently series by Alan Hunter in a charity shop in Bury St. Edmunds. I am always looking out for a new series to read. When I saw the date on book one -"first published in 1955" - I thought, " I was alive then, I wonder how much I might remember from 1955", and so I decided to give the series a go, and find out more about the author. Soon I had discovered that Alan Hunter was mostly East Anglia based ( ie not very far from where we live), and had been writing books, about one a year, for over 40 years, from 1955 to 1999. How would Gently and his surroundings change over 40 years ? I was aware that Inspector Gently had appeared on TV, but strangely that was one TV series that had passed me by. Apparently it was set in Northumberland and Durham - why on earth not Norfolk ?

I thought Alan Hunter's obituary in the Daily Telegraph of 11th March, 2005 was very readable and informative, and a lot better than Wikipedia. I must remember that for the future.

Alan Hunter was born in June, 1922 in the Broads village of Hoveton St John on the river Bure, near Norwich. He enjoyed a childhood exploring the Broads in a sailing dinghy, writing poetry and short stories, and writing natural history notes in the local Evening News. He went to school across the river Bure in Wroxham, but left at the age of 14 to work on his father's poultry farm, and took an evening correspondence course in advertising. During the war he served as an aircraft technician in the RAF, and published a collection of poetry, The Norwich Poems (1944). In the same year he married Adelaide Cooper, and soon they were blessed a baby daughter. In 1946 he was appointed manager of the antiquarian books department of Charles Cubitt, booksellers of Norwich, and 4 years later he left to set up his own bookshop - still in Norwich. His first detective novel, "Gently Does It", was published in 1955. There then followed a series of novels mostly with "Gently" in the title. He lived all his life in Norfolk, eventually retiring to the village of Brundall.

Most of Hunter's novels were set in and inspired by his native East Anglia. The Telegraph wrote that Alan Hunter admired the writer Georges Simenon - some of whose books I have sitting on my pending shelf as I write this in October, 2014 - and the character of George Gently was compared with that of the world weary Inspector Maigret. I remember Inspector Maigret from an old black and white TV series with a memorable signature tune - that series certainly did not pass me by.

Gently Does It,     (1955)

I read this book in October, 2014.

This is the first book in the 45 book DCI George Gently series by Alan Hunter. The book I read had a forward by the author saying that this was a detective story, not a whodunnit - "I hate being condemned for not doing what I had no intention of doing"

I quite liked the book, and the George Gently character. Yes, a 1955 book is a bit old fashioned now (2014), but the 1955 setting was why I chose it. George Gently is a big, bulky man, over 50, and there is no mention in book one of any family - nor much about his background. He seems to work for a vague central police department (the Met ?) and is on holiday in Norchester in Northshire. Why not simply call a spade a spade - ie surely Norwich in Norfolk ?

It was quite an interesting story. A local timber merchant, Mr Huysmann, is found murdered just after a visit by his son Peter, who instantly becomes the local police's chief suspect. DCI Gently had seen Peter performing in a local fair on the Wall of Death, and was convinced that the locals had jumped to the wrong conclusion. He offers his help to Superintendent Walker, and the offer is accepted. But soon Walker begins to regret asking for Gently's help as the locals think they have an open and shut case against Peter Huysmann. DI Hanson especially objects to Gently's presence and interference. Soon it is Gently v. the local police.

Gently is a gentle, easy going character, slow to take offence. Strangely he seems addicted to peppermint creams. He also smokes a pipe (cf George Simenon's Maigret). Indeed, everyone in the 1955's seeems to smoke like a chimney. There were also references to the hangman - hanging was not abolished in Britain until a 1965 parliament act became permanent in 1969.

Gently is a clever, methodical detective, gathering clues and following up on leads until at the very end he gets his man.

It was an interesting read which held my attention throughout. I doubt that it is the "creme de la creme" of crime fiction, but so what. It must certainly be classed a popular series as Hunter got 45 books published over a span of 45 years. I will read on.

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Gently By The Shore,     (1956)

I read this book in October, 2014.

This is book two in the DCI George Gently series by Alan Hunter. The book was first published in 1956 - and it gives us a glimpse back to the 1950's, which, of course, is one of the reasons why I am reading these books. Books were published almost every year from 1955 to 1999 ! Hopefully they will be a great source of social history. There are some lovely old words here - gay is used freely, but in its original meaning, I don't recall when last I heard someone referred to as "his Nibs", and who nowadays uses the words enconomium, fanfaronade, etc.

I like the DCI Gently figure - a big stocky man who likes to keep himself well fed, smokes a pipe, is steady, methodical, and systematic in the following up of clues to their conclusion. He now has an assistant in Sgnt. Dutt - but wierdly having read two books now, I know almost nothing of Gently's background, nor private life. He doesn't seem to be married.

The story is set in Starmouth (Yarmouth), a seaside town near Northchester (Norwich) in Northshire (Norfolk). A body is found on a beach by Nits, a local halfwit. The body is naked, but has stab wounds and signs of torture. The local Starmouth police (Super Syms, and DI Copping) get no where even in identlfying the body, let alone in solving who did the murder - so they call in the Yard, and Gently and Dutt arrive. They set to work, and eventually their findings lead them to a local pub / lounge attached to an amusement arcade on Starmouth sea front. This is owned and run by big Louey, a local bookie. Louey makes Gently very welcome -"have what you want on the house" - and later spars with / toys with Gently teasing him with clues and info. It's obvious Louey is deeply involved in the whole business, but nothing he says is self incriminating / nor could be used in a court of law.

There is a lot of dry, understated humour, and Hunter paints a good picture of the times. The story gets a bit far fetched towards the end when Special Branch arrive, and we are dealing with international politics and terrorists. We have Chief and assistant constables, Chief Superintendents, etc all in the same room with Gently - but it's Gently who solves the crime, and gets his man.

I know Yarmouth quite well,and was fascinated to read about it in the 1950s. I think this series will grow on me. It will be interesting to see how the Gently character develops / changes through the years.

All in all, a good read, different, almost leisurely - I liked it.

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Gently Down the Stream,     (1957)

I read this book in November, 2014.

This is the third book in the DCI George Gently series by Alan Hunter, and set in Norfolk / Norwich, although Hunter is still renaming places - ie Northshire / Norchester, etc. This book sees Gently and his assistant Sgnt Dutt investigating a murder on the Norfolk Broads. I am reading these books as a harmless diversion and I think it should be interesting to see the crime scene change through the years, from the first book in 1955 to the last in 1999.

I didn't think this book was quite as good as books 1 and 2. There was too much use of a very local dialect which meant I had to read more slowly to work out what was being said. It was OK to start with, but it soon became tedious. It is set in 1957, and it's interesting to read of life in Norfolk in the middle 50s. The murder victim is a James William Lammas, a wealthy local business man who lived in a pleasant house on the banks of the broads, with a wife, a daughter Pauline, a son Paul, two servants, and a chauffeur. I guess wealthy people then had servants. I was a teenager at the time, but I didn't know of any households where they had servants !

The Lammas marriage was now a loveless one, split into two opposing camps. Father and Daughter got on well, Mother, son and the chauffeur comprised the other camp. Apparently Mr Lammas had been having an affair with one of his employees, the shapely Linda Brentt, and he had hired a boat on the broads for a week away with Linda. But it is found burned out, with the charred remains of James Lammas on board. Money is missing, the chauffeur is missing, Paul hated his dad, Mrs Lammas had a boyfiend who might want James out the way, etc, so there are lots of possible suspects. The local police call in help, and so DCI Gently and his assistant Dutt turn up. Gently goes about his business in his usual slow, methodical, logical fashion, but its a baffling case even for Gently. He can't construct a picture of what happened that would explain all the facts that turn up. Has he missed something?

I have commented before that experienced readers of crime fiction "prick up their ears" when they learn that a charred victim is found. This always leaves open the possibility that the charred remains are not those of the suspected victim. Sometimes this holds true, but as often as not, it does not. You will need to read this book yourself to find out what applies in this case.

Although I didn't like the over usage of dialogue, the story itself was OK. It's amazing how many people smoked all the time in the 50s, even lighting up in other peoples' houses. Dutt also appears unduly deferential. But at the end of the book, when all has been solved, Dutt invites a weary Gently back to his home to say hello to Dutt's children. Gently confesses that as a bachelor he regrets that he has no children of his own to welcome him home. So the Gently / Dutt partnership is shaping up nicely, and we meet Superintendent Walker and Inspector Hansom of the local police again. It will be interesting to see how the series develops.

I haven't been left with some cliff hanger. Gently doesn't seem to have any potential love interest. There doesn't seem to be anything ongoing that would compell the reader to rush out and buy book 4. But I like Norfolk, Gently and Dutt, and I'll read on.

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Landed Gently,     (1957)

I read this book in January, 2015.

This is book four in the DCI George Gently series by Alan Hunter. It's set at Christmas 1957, and it started off quite well. We were with Gently in his lodgings in London - very comfortable, and Gently is spoiled by his landlady. Gently is a middle aged character who doesn't have a wife nor girlfriend, but he spoils the children of his assistant Sgnt Dutt. It's a bit like Morse and Lewis perhaps.

Anyway, Gently is invited to spend Christmas pike fishing with Sir Daynes, an old school chief constable with a country estate up north. Sitting in a first class carriage on the train there, Gently meets an american serviceman, also on his way to a counry estate Christmas, and Gently and the serviceman get on very well.

The pike fishing is spoiled when the american serviceman is found dead at the foot of a flight of stairs at Merely Hall, adjacent to where Gently and chief constable Daynes happen to be. Gently and Daynes are called to Merely Hall - Daynes doesn't want a fuss, says its an obvious accident, and bullys the local officers, but Gently recognises murder when he sees it.

All the above is good so far, but then it turns into a very slow going, old fashioned story - a group of people gathered together in a remote country house, which one is the murderer. It was not only slow going, but verbiose almost protentious fare. Lord Summerhayes is the owner of Merely Hall, but he seems to be having a mental breakdown - ashamed of his aristrocatic class, he has lost his self confidence. Frankly, it was a load of rubbish, and whilst I like the affable Gently I didn't like the story.

I hope the other Gently books are better. The books seemed better when Gently was paired with sgnt Dutt, and located in Norfolk. I read a lot of books, and can't expect to like them all. I'll try book five and see how it goes. I decided to read the Gently books as a sort of modern history lesson, to see how life and the landscape changes from 1955 to 1999. This might still work.

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Gently through the mill,     (1958)

I read this book in April, 2015.

This is book five in the Norfolk based series featuring DCI George Gently and his assistant Sgnt Dutt. I thought book four, "Landed Gently" was terrible, but thankfully this book is a lot better. Generally this is not turning out to be a strong series - it's old fashioned and of it's time. It is set in 1958, but the style seems very dated now. But I'm ploughing on, curious to see how the series will respond to all the changes of over 40 years. The series is 45 books long, and was written from 1955 to 1999.

In this story a small time gambler and petty crook Steinie Taylor is discovered dead in a hopper of flour in a country flour mill / bakery. The mill / bakery is in Lynton in Norfolk. Alan Hunter has an annoying habit of renamimg real places with fictitious ones. Thus Yarmouth becomes Starmouth, and Norwich becomes Northchester. However, I haven't been able to work out what has been renamed Lynton. No matter ! The local police call in Scotland Yard, and so Gently and Dutt get the case. Although they work as a team, in this book Dutt doesn't really get a lot to do. Gently and Dutt each go their own ways - better writers would have had them playing off each other more, and working more closely together.

The baker of the story is chapel going Mr Blythely who has a wife who in her youth must have been a ravishing beauty, the miller is a Mr Fuller, the surly foreman is Sam Blacker, and the mill owner is affluent and prospective future mayor of Lynton, Geoffrey Pershore. The murdered Taylor was part of a 3 man gang of crooks who all speak with cockney rhyming accents - not very realistic nowadays, but perhaps this is how it was in 1958 ? As a social history, its strange to rediscover just how much smoking was going on. Just about all the males smoked - outside, inside, in offices, in cars, at meeetings, at work, etc. Also its a class divided society - everyone knows his / her place, and Geoffrey Pershore expects to be deferred to.

We follow the police procedure of the day, Gently puffs at his pipe, and solves the crime. But then, instead of building to a climax, the book just sort of peters out - taking a detour to tell us more about who the killer was and used to be, and what he had done some twenty years previously.

I quite like Gently, and don't mind Dutt - but it's a strange 5 out of 10 book and series. Hopefully it might get better. I guess it's just proving to be terrible dated.

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Gently in the Sun,     (1959)

I read this book in July, 2015.

This is book six in the series about DCI George Gently and his assistant Sgnt Dutt. It is set in Norfolk. I chose to read the series as I thought it would be interesting to follow a series written over 45 years. I thought it would remind me of times gone by, and might be a good social history.

This book dates back to 1959, and is a bit old fashioned nowadays. It's very slow paced, and there are lots of words to wade through. But I guess it gives a fair picture of life in 1959, which is what had interested me. It is set in Hiverton, a small fishing community along the coast from Starmouth (Yarmouth). Although small, it still has a baker, a butcher a grocer, and a general stores - typical for the 1950's. Now, it would have none.

There is a heatwave - it's a scocher. So Gently is genuinely in the sun as per the title ! Beautiful Rachel Campion is the "secretary" (mistress) of her shady boss Mixer. Note its not Mr Mixer - i.e the use of surnames in the 1950's. They are having a holiday at the Bell Air guest house in Hilverton. Rachel is a bit of a flirt, and certainly turns heads. Her body is found on the shore beside the fishermen's boats. The local police lack the expertise to handle a murder enquiry, and call in "Scotland Yard". Gently and Dutt are sent. Gently seems to be in holiday mode - he starts off in the general stores, buying three short sleeved shirts, ignoring their bright design, and a cooling ice cream. He is booked in to the Bell Air, and spends his time tuning in to local gossip, and trying to tease out what sort of person Rachel was. Here, he thinks, lies the key to the murder.

Soon Gently takes an interest in two of the local fisherman. Esau Dawes is the natural leader of the group, and Bob Hewes a drinker and oaf, a former friend of Esau, but no longer. Esau does not deign to answer questions, and Gently goes along with this. Esau seems to be trying to guide Gently in the right direction in his own strange, non verbal way.

There is quite a lot of action eventually, but it is slow in coming. The good weather breaks with a terrific storm, and Gently is not a good sailor.

The book is as it is, a bit of a curiosity, really. I liked parts of the book, and will read on into the Sixties. I was a teenager then.

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Gently with the Painters,     (1960)

I read this book in September, 2015.

This is book seven in the DCI George Gently of Scotland Yard series. The book is set in 1960, and it is a bit of a curiosity. I am afraid I am a bit disappointed in the series. I like George Gently, but the stories are very slow going - there is not much action, and too many digressions for the author to spout his opinions. In this case, a painter, Mrs Johnson, is murdered, and she had been a member of a group of painters. So we are treated to Hunters views on art - the three pillars of art, is it art if it is not observed, has art lost it's way, classical art v. modern - and its all tedious stuff. All of this comes out of the mouth of Sir Mallows, the most distinguished member of the group - and strangely Mallows and Gently seem to hit it off .

Gently has been promoted to superintendent, but he misses being involved in murder solving, so he nabs the Shirley Johnson murder from Inspector Stephens - Stephens is to help Gently, but I rather missed Gently's usual assistant, Sgnt Dutt.

It's almost impossible to work out who did the murder - was it one of the painters group, was it her husband Mr Johnson, and was it even Sir Mallows himself? She and her husband lived in the same house, but as strangers. They hated each other, but Shirley would not agree to a divorce. Mr Johnson is the local high class estate agent. He has a steady girlfrind - Anne Butters, his best friend's daughter.

Inspector Stephens is very keen, but too quick to jump to conclusions. Gently is the opposite - he observes, takes in all the facts, builds up a complete picture and lets theories and solutions evolve in his mind. But for his deserved reputation and a formidable detective, he could easily drive his colleagues to distraction.

It seems to take me a long time to plough my way through these Gently books. Two thirds of the books seem readable and OK, the rest too verbiose, and boring, really. Not a great series - its proving to be a big disappointment.

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Gently to the Summit,     (1961)

I read this book in December, 2015.

This is book eight in the D. Superintendent George Gently of Scotland Yard series. It's not a series I enthuse over - I don't like Alan Hunter's writing style, his long winded, verbose use of obscure words whose meaning I don't understand, and it's all now become terribly slow and dated. But it is as it is, and I have bought a lot of the books, so I may as well plough my way through them.

Perhaps I overstate the case against the books. I do like the Gently character, and sergeant Dutt who makes a couple of brief appearances in this story. Gently takes his time, and works on a combination of logic and intuition, and I guess we must allow Gently and his author to go about things in their own way.

This book is set in London, and in Wales. The summit in question is Snowdon, and Hunter has obviously done a lot of research into mountaineering and the geography of Snowdon. In the process he gives a good portrayal of the camaraderie of a group of climbers pitting their mental and physical powers of endurance against an unforgiving mountain, and provides as good an answer to the perennial question asked of mountaineers - Q. "why do you want to climb Everest?", A. "to understand the soul of the mountain".

The story is about a mountaineer Reginald Kincaid, who had disappeared, presumed dead, some 22 years previously on an expedition to climb Everest - the expedition lead by a fellow called Arthur Fleece. Now Kincaid reappears (or is it an imposter ?), with pleas to the press to help him find his wife Paula who seems to have disappeared, and tells a tale that more or less accuses Fleece of attempted murder. Fleece goes to law to defend his reputation, but before the case can come to court, Fleece falls to his death in climbing Snowdon, and there are reports that Kincaid was seen in the area. The welsh police, in the shape of DCI Evans, charge Kincaid with Fleece's murder, but belatedly realise that the motive / charge will only stick if Kincaid is who he says he is, and this they cannot prove. And so they call in Scotland Yard, and Detective Superintendent Gently. Evans had hoped a successful prosecution of Kincaid would have lead to promotion, but instead he is treated to a master class in detection from Gently.

I won't give the plot away, but we are with George Gently all the way as he probes and plods on, trying to tease sense out of a stange case, in the end it does all makes sense, and it's a satisfying conclusion.

I prefer the books when they are set in Hunter's native Norfolk, but accept that for variety they cannot all be set there. I wonder where "Gently Go Man" will be set ?

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Gently Go Man,     (1961)

I read this book in April, 2016.

This is book nine in the D. Superintendent George Gently series - and sadly I can't say I like this series. It's very dated, but not in a way that gives the reader any useful social history background. People are referred to by their surnames in a class conscious world, but I don't think Hunter manages to make it interesting.

The story is about discontented youth in a rural town who live only for a life of adventure driving flat out and dangerously on their motor bikes. They speak in jargon, "hip" "with it " phrases. Only they are "real" - everyone else is "square."

One of the bikers is killed, and soon it is thought that it may not have been an accident. Local police, not knowing how best to proceed, call in Scotland Yard, and George Gently appears on the scene, but by himself this time.

He soon introduces himself to the biker gang - and far from being intimidated by them, he seems to relish goading them. It is soon apparent that he can take care of himself. Drugs are involved, and it is Gently who discovers the local distribution centre. The biker gang seem to hold on the word of an older man - also a biker, Dicky Deeming. Dicky takes Gently for a hair raising ride as pillion on his very fast motor bike - Dicky is an excellent, fast rider.

There was far too much youth "hip" jargon, but I ploughed on. I thought Gently's police station interrogations in plain English were well done, and the best part of the book, but at the end I thought that the climax was contrived.

I have a lot of these books still to read. I read one, give myself a long break reading other books, and then try again, hoping the next Gently book might be better - but sadly I am too often disappointed.

George Gently is a good detective. It is strange that I like the George Gently character, his fumblings for sweets in his pockets, and his fumbling with his old pipe, his love of good, plain cooking, his comfortable life being looked after by his landlady, and his affection for Sgnt Dutt and his young family, but at the same time don't really care for these stories. Perhaps it's Hunters writing style that is letting down his main character.

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Gently Where the Roads Go,     (1962)

I read this book in August, 2016.

This is book ten in a series that has been a great disappointment to me - some tales are dire and tedious, some OK-ish, but I have bought a lot of these books from charity shops, and so I continue to work my way through them. They are very dated now, written by someone who loves using long, obscure, errudite words, and launches into boring philosophising passages that add nothing to story telling. It is sometimes interesting to be reminded of the 1960's though, when everyone smoked, money was scarce, inflation had not yet taken off, and class distinctions pervaded society. It was also a period when memories of the war were fresher - and here we have a tale about spies, dirty tricks, MI5, etc.

At the start of the book we meet the villain, the Polish Tim Teodowicz. He is visiting his girlfriend Wanda, the owner of the Raven, a cafe / B&B on the A1. This is the same Wanda who later tries to seduce Gently. Teodowicz tells Wanda that his instinct says it is time to move on, and Wanda agrees to go with him to America. Next, Teodowicz is found dead in his truck in a lay-by on the A1 near the Raven. The corpse's face had been battered beyond recognition. Usually that (or a fire) is a clue that the corpse might not be Teodowicz, but the corpse is identified by its fingerprints - so that is conclusive, or is it ? Cue Hunter to ponder about centuries of ancient and modern man going North and South, up and down the country, on an insignificant planet in the universe. Men, a biological error. Anyway, politics and spies are suspected, and so Superintendents Gently from Scotland Yard, and Empton from MI5 are called in by the local police - sadly there is again no place for good old Sgnt Dutt in this book. Empton is allegedly a hard man - the end justifies the means - and obviously public school educated. He calls everyone "old fellow." Teodowicz had been killed by a burst of about 200 bullets from a sten gun, so following the clues, Gently finds his way to a nearby RAF airfield where the top bod is another public school caricature. Empton suspects espionage, thinks Teodowicz was a Polish spy, and thinks he knows the assassin. Gently thinks the murder may be more mundane, but Empton and Gently work together, and eventually all is revealed, and justice sort of done, but not by the long arm of the law.

The actual story was quite good I thought, and tension did build as Gently's life was in danger, but the story was almost lost in the tangle of Hunter's dense prose. I also find it annoying that most towns in the Gently books are renamed with fictitious aliases. Gently is best in his native Norfolk, I think.

I continue to plough my way through these books.

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Gently Floating,     (1963)

I read this book in August, 2016.

This is book eleven in a series that continues to be a great disappointment to me. I like the period, I like the main character - Superintendent George Gently, and I like the setting, especially when it is the author's home patch of Norfolk. But the books are very dated, and I cannot get on with the author's sometimes impenetrable prose. He does get a bee in his bonnet,and goes on and on and on. And the result is that often interesting stories are lost in a sea of boredom.

This story is set in the Norfolk Broads, probably up river from Potter Heigham bridge. We can't say for sure, of course, because Hunter again renames / disguises places (Yarmouth is Starmouth, etc, etc). Harry French, a local boat builder, is a bully, is generally a nasty piece of work, and so has lots of enemies - but would they kill him? His wife is dead, and he does not get on with his son John who still lives at home, but does not want to take over the family business. Harry tries to control John's life, and order him about. John is shy and does not have a girlfriend. Sid Lidney, who works for Harry French at his boatyard, seems to be pimp for his wife who entertains men friends at home - and one of these men is young, inexperienced John French. And now, the Lidneys seem to have talked young John into investing in a business venture with them. John is about to come into an inheritance from his dead mother.

Thus the scene has been set. Harry French is found "gently floating" in the river, but with a bashed in skull. There are lots and lots of possible suspects, and quite a few of them have both motive, and were near the scene at the time. The local police call in Scotland Yard, and Gently arrives on the scene - but sadly once again minus his assistant Dutt. I like the Gently / Dutt partnership - it's a pity Hunter does not deploy it more often!

Eventually Gently points the local police in the right direction, solves the crime, and is on his way back to London again. The identity of the villain does not come as a great surprise - why else is everyone, really everyone telling lies - but Hunter does not intend it to. Usually Hunter is quite good at dialogue but here the gift seems to have left him. The author has also developed a tendency to write in long sentences, linking phrases with a succession of "ands".

I was tempted to reproduce a few lines from the very last page of this book as a typical example of Hunter's dire writing style, but I will not inflict this on you. It's all such a pity, as these could be smashing little stories if the author could only learn to write more simply.

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Gently Sahib,     (1964)

I read this book in November, 2016.

This is book twelve in Alan Hunter's series about George Gently of Scotland Yard. Some of the members of the series are dire - pseudo philosophy, musings about the meaning of life, nothing really matters, etc, etc, none of which ever come to any conclusion. They just get in the way of story telling. However, this book is mostly clear of such musings - mostly - and I though it was quite a fair story. It is set in the 1960s, and it is interesting to be reminded of such times.

I have always liked the George Gently character, and his assistant Dutt. Now it is Detective Chief Superintendent Gently, and DI Dutt. I think Hunter should have made more of this partnership, and told us more about their home lives - a trick missed, I think.

The book opens with a tiger escaping from a wild animal wholesale farm in the country, getting to the nearest market town of Abbotsham, and terrifying the locals before getting shot by an ex army policeman. A year later, a badly mutilated body of a man is found in a remote cottage near Abbotsham. Obviously we have a victim of the tiger from a year ago - but the body was found buried in the garden. So it's not such a straight forward case after all, and Gently of the Yard and Dutt are called in.

Very soon, the victim seems to be identified as a blackmailer Shimpling whose girlfriend also seems to be missing. Was she in on the blackmail ? The obvious killer is the owner of the wild animal farm, a South African brute of a man, Groton, but he has a cast iron alibi.

All the local big wigs seem to have been blackmail victims. Did they somehow get together to eliminate their tormentor ? One of the locals is a local builder who now makes his living building supermarkets on time and on budget. This money allows him to build much needed social housing, and to create local employment. Will society benefit if he is jailed, but his employees are laid off ? Besides, Gently should be on holiday, on a much needed and keenly anticipated fishing trip !

It all comes to a sensible conclusion, and Gently and Dutt can get on their way.

It's an OK sort of book, worth reading if you like reading about the 1960s.

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Gently With The Ladies,     (1965)

I read this book in January, 2017.

This is book 13 in the D.Chief Superintendent George Gently of the Yard series, and really it's not a series that I look forward to reading. I've bought a lot of the books - they are readily available in charity shops - so I may as well read them.

It's Gently alone in this book - Sgnt Dutt is mentioned once only, but doesn't appear. I prefer it when the main character has a trusted assistant, and they function as a team - but Alan Hunter has other ideas.

This is a story about who killed Clytie Fazakerly in her Chelsea penthouse. Her husband John is the main suspect, and he doesn't help his case by disappearing on a sea trip just after the murder. The crime is being investigated by DCI Reyolds of the CID, but a neat twist is that John Fazakerly is a distant sort of cousin of George Gently, so Fazakerly hands himself in to Gently and says he is innocent - even though he had opportunity, reason and no good alibi, and all the evidence suggests he did it. Gently feels obliged to take an interest, and such is Gently's reputation and esteem that Reynolds agrees not to charge Fazakerly yet. Although Gently has agreed to look into the matter for family reasons, initially he too thinks Fazakerly is guilty.

Clytie was a lesbian, and was carrying on with Mrs Bannister, who, with her french maid Albertine, lived downstairs from Clytie's penthouse. Sadly, Hunter then starts to go off into one of his tedious rants - this time on the theory that women are the superior sex, and men are only required as "seed" carriers.

Clytie had a sister, Brenda Merryn - and John F. had been sleeping with his sister-in-law. John F. also had a steady girlfriend in Sarah Johnston. John and Sarah could settle down if Clytie was not there, and if John inherited his wife's fortune. There is also the mysterious Beryl Rogers - another lover of Clytie and Mrs Bannister. All in all, it's a complicated set up, and George Gently has to untangle the puzzle, but you can't believe a word anyone says.

We see a very professional Gently at work, resisting bribes and obvious flirtations. Most of the cast seem to be acting very childishly.

When it's eventually all sorted, George can relax, and enjoy a surprising dinner date with a lady guest. This is the first sign of any romance we have seen for George Gently. Perhaps romance is a bit of an exaggeration, but never mind.

As before I found this a good story, and I do like George Gently, but I think its all let down by Hunter's writing style.

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Gently North West,     (1967)

I read this book in May, 2017.

This is book 14 in the D. Chief Superintendent George Gently series by Alan Hunter. Once again there is no Dutt to help George Gently, but there is a one sentence reference to an Inspector Dutt, so Dutt may appear in a later book. Instead Gently is helped by a lady companion, his girlfriend Brenda Merryn whom we met in the previous book. I pondered if romance might be in the air for our hero - and now there is no doubt. George and Brenda are "an item" and off on their holidays to North West Scotland, along with George's sister Bridget and her husband Geoffrey Kelling. It's a new twist to the series, and a good one. Gently usually has little to say for himself, but Brenda is just the opposite, and together George and Brenda make an unlikely but effective duo.

As a Scot I like reading about Scotland, and so it proved with this book. It's a sort of Scottish whimsy unfortunately told by a writer whose ponderous style I don't like. And it's certainly quite far fetched - but that said, I liked the story. George and his party have taken ages to drive to the the far North of Scotland, and apparently gone back in time. We have local lairds, stupid farm workers, a fierce hatred of the English by most but not all the locals, and everyone talks in a dialect out of the time of Rabbi Burns. Our four travellers are staying in the Highland cottage of a friend, and being looked after by a no nonsense local lady who is an excellent cook, but her duties do not extend to doing the washing up on the Sabbath. En route to Scotland the party had been carved up by a mad redheaded, bearded fellow in a souped up Cortina. George and Brenda now go for a walk up the glen, and happen to be there when a murder is done, and they spot the red headed gentleman high above them. The local policeman is inspector Brayne. He knows who Gently is and is not above asking for Gently's help. Next George and Brenda go for a drive and take a shortcut over the hills along a track of sorts. Their car gets stuck, and they get captured by what seems to be a local militia - perhaps a branch of a Scottish National Army. They escape with the help of George's Swiss penknife, but are shot at, and then find themselves blocked by our red headed Cortina driver. And so the tale unfolds, and eventually we meet a recluse of a farmer with his four sons, and wild daughter. All six of these characters hate the English, and George foolishly agrees to let the wild daughter show him a secret track over the mountains. Its all very far fetched - but would have been a delightful escapade if Hunter could just write in simple language.

George takes terrible risks, and Brenda is there with George throughout - giving a running commentatry of unfolding events, and instant judgement. Of course it is Gently who eventually identifies the murderer, but George is on holiday, and wants none of the credit. And there is a sort of epilogue when the murderer escapes, but turns up at Scotland yard looking for George Gently, and revenge.

All in all, I thought it was a good although far fetched story, and I liked the George and Brenda partnership. If only Alan Hunter could drop some of his verbosity, and learn to write simply.

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Gently Continental,     (1967)

I read this book in July, 2017.

I'm afraid I didn't like this book at all - as poor a book as I've read in a long time.

Generally, I don't care much for this series. Alan Hunter's writing style is flowery, bombastic, and almost incomprehensible in places. Sentences can fill a page, and he can repeat himself with a variety of adjectives linked together with , and ....., and....., and....., etc. He desperately needs a good editor. He is obviously classically educated, but seems to be showing off with his use of obscure references. Crime fiction should not be so boring.

There is nothing here about Gently's private life. What about his girlfriend Brenda of the previous book? What about DI Dutt? One of the joys of a series should be in following developing private lives - but there is nothing here.

Yes, I like the DCI George Gently character, and the story wasn't too bad, but it's buried under a pile of stodge.

A body is found dead at the bottom of a cliff - the face smashed in by impact with a a pill box at the foot of the cliff. It's an American by the name of Clooney (not his real name) who was staying at the Continental Hotel run by the Breske family. Mrs Breske and her two daughters escaped the Nazi persecution of the Jews and ended up owning a hotel on the Norfolk coast.

Soon it becomes clear that Clooney was being subsidised by the Breskes - but why ? Clooney is escaping someone - had they found him, tortured him, and killed him ? Gently is given the case, but Hunter describes Gently as almost a deity - "The Great Man", the "Omnipitent", who has somehow worked everything out in his massive mind. It's all so very far fetched.

Marks out of ten - perhaps 2. Lets leave it at that and get on with something better. On the other hand, to finish on a positive note, the dialogue in this book was handled very well - simple one line question and answer, with Gently the master of his trade. Why couldn't Hunter adopt this writing style more generally ?

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Gently with the Innocents,     (1970)

I read this book in December, 2017.

Continuing the D. Super. George Gently series, we now have quite a good story reasonably well told without the bombast and erudition that spoiles lot of this series for me. It started off well, but in one part of the book one antique dealer who was helping George Gently delved into the world of antiquarian books, and Hunter (remember he was a bookshop owner in Norwich) lapsed into his old ways. Luckily for us, this lapse was only temporary.

The story opens with Adrian Peachment visiting Gently to ask for his help. Adrian's uncle had been found dead at the foot of some stairs in the very old ruin of a house he called home. Did he fall, or was he pushed ? If he was pushed then Adrian, who stood to inherit, was an obvious suspect.

Gently agrees to help, and goes to Cross, a town in "Northshire." The Chief Constable is an old fishing friend of Gently's and all the local police welcome Gently's help. It's Nov 30th to Dec 1st, and by coincidence this was also the time of year when I was reading this story. Old Peachment's house - "Harrisons" - was centuries old. He lived there alone almost as a recluse, with no electric, nor any home comforts. There was an old story about a hidden gold coin collection, but presumed to be a myth. However old Peachment had approached the local antique dealer with a very fine gold coin. Was it part of the the treasure ? Local kids said they had seen the old man counting his gold coins - were they making this up ? An old warehouse stood next to Harrisons, and the warehouse caretaker seemed to be taking a great interest in the place.

So the story is who killed old Peachment, and was there ever any gold.

All in all, not too bad a story - although I did think it ended a bit abruptly. It would be funny if the series started to improve after so many attempts. We will see.

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Gently at a Gallop,     (1971)

I read this book in January, 2018.

This is not my favourite series. It's strange how I quite like the George Gently character, but despair of the author Alan Hunter's writing style. Some of the books are sort of OK, but sadly this one is one of the poorer ones.

A middle aged serial womaniser, Charles Berney, is killed, trampled by a huge beast of a wild horse on a windswept stretch of moorland. Could it have been an act of revenge by a business rival, or by one of many cheated husbands. Berney seemed to have argued with his wife at a party on the night before his death. This might have been about a love poem handed to the wife at the party - but who wrote the poem, and who smuggled the letter to her ? Mrs Berney was a strange, haughty, unstable woman who talked of devils, and carrying the devil's child. She was the sister of Lachlan Stogumber, a local famous poet who wrote modern poetry (stuff that doesn't rhyme), but who also now claims to be the author of the disputed poem - even though it is written in a completely different traditional style. And of course, Hunter - a poet himself - can't resist numerous digressions into poetry critiques. These are mostly boring, have little to do with the story, and just needlessly pad out the tale.

Gently does solve the case after getting himself into some danger when the mysterious black horse reappears, but surely not riden by the devil. And so there is a sort of tension build and climax, but by then I'd lost interest.

Sadly there is no sign of Gently's former team mate, DI Dutt. I thought they were a good partnership in the early books. Gently now drives a bright shiny Lotus + 2 sports car. I don't remember this appearing in a previous book, and had to check that I hadn't skipped a book or two just in case. So where this car came from, and how Gently came to choose such a car is simply ignored. What a strange author - a successful writer of 46 odd books, but to me so lacking in the basics of continuity and serial writing. And what of Brenda, Georges's one time girlfriend - is he still seeing her ? Again no clues from the author. In short, it's simply not a good series !

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Gently Where She Lay,     (1972)

I read this book in Feb, 2018.

This is a weary sort of tale by my least favourite author - Alan Hunter. He is scholarly man, and he tells his tale in a scholarly way - no humour, digress to discuss if art is dead, add a poem, etc. In short , it's a typical Hunter outing.

Vivienne (Mrs Selly) seems to have taken off her clothes, composed herself, laid down in a wood, and died. But she was murdered, and Gently is in town (is it Southwold ?) to tackle the problem. Vivienne corrupted four 18 year old school girls (this is 1972), and also corrupted the local major. Her husband was a brute, and Gently would have liked it if he were the murderer. Eventually someone else confesses, and Gently leaves the local police to charge him. But Gently just can't get the right feeling about this case - it simply doesn't feel right. And so we meander on and eventually we do find out who the true murderer is - but it would never hold up in court. It's all very unsatisfactory - just like this book.

Unusually the tale is now told in the first person, not the usual up to now, third person. Gently is telling the story, rather than being a character in the story told by someone else. I didn't think it was an improvement.

There is no sergeant Dutt (perhaps he is DI Dutt now ?). This is no mention of Gently's girlfriend. It's all very dry and impersonal.

I'll say no more. It's a big disppointment. It could and should have been a lot better.

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Gently French,     (1973)

I read this book in Mar, 2018.

This is book 20 in the Detective Chief Superintendent Gently series set in Norfolk, and written by Alan Hunter. Hunter was a book seller, poet, and wrote nature notes for the local paper - and he indulges his interests to the detriment of story telling. In short, of all the series I am reading, this is the most disappointing. This episode is par for the course - I thought the story only came alive in the last 30 pages. It's a shame, as the basic stories are OK, as is the Gently character, but Hunter simply refuses to write simply.

I may have muddled the order of reading books 19 and 20 ? This book too is written in the first person. Good news for me is that Dutt is in the story, and we're told that Gently is still seeing Brenda Merryn - he even muses that he doesn't know why they don't just get married , but the present set up seems to suit. Gently still drives his Lotus, but I don't think it was there in book 19 !

Here, a bank robbery has gone wrong, and all the gang are caught but for one who got away with the loot. The robbery had been set up by Flash Freddy - a public school educated toff up to now was always a step ahead of the law. Freddy is found stabbed to death in his vintage Bugatti sports car. Who did it, and can Gently tie it to the flirtatious Mimi Deslauriers, Freddy's french lover. She is very clever, and very promiscous - using her womanly charms to get besotted men to do her dirty work. She plays games with the police, and Gently, for most of the book - large parts of which I found tedious.

All in all, I expect little of this series, and am seldom disappointed. On the other hand, I am sure Hunter had a loyal following - to whom his style must surely have appealed.

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Gently in Trees,     (1974)

I read this book in Jul, 2018.

Some years ago I bought ever so many of these George Gently books - they seemed to be in all the charity shops - and put them on my "books to be read" shelf. I rather overdid it buying so many without even having read one of the series. I have been paying for it ever since. Of all the series I read, this is the poorest to date. I like the characters, and a lot of the stories are OK, but the problem is Hunter's writing style. He used to do the nature notes in a local Norfolk newspaper, and in this tale he spends page after page listing wild flowers, trees, waxing lyrical about "nature" and all the time the plot advances not one jot. He is an educated man, and he loves showing off his "learning" to the detriment of story telling. What on earth is a "Struwweltpeter" ? So all in all, not my favourite series, as I said. Well the good news is that this book is the last on my "books to be read" shelf. I have caught up, and currently have no more to plough through. I may relent in future and buy another in the series "for old time sake", but no doubt I would regret later.

Apart from all the nature note digressions, this is quite a good story. We have Adrian Stoll found dead in his camper van (the van was blue, not orange as per the cover to this book !) There was gas bottle outside with a pipe leading to an air vent above where Stoll was sleeping, so he died in his sleep, poisoned. Was it suicide, or murder ? The police think its murder, but two DI's claim the investigation. The local DI is Metfield, and he thinks the murderer or murderers are local. DI Lyons from London thinks the murderer is in London, and so the Assistant Commissioner calls in D. Chief Superintendent Gently to see if his famous intuition might suggest a favourite. Gently is non committal, and so gets the case to solve - by next weekend !

Stoll was a gifted stage director with a tangled love life. He was divorced from his first wife and had an estranged son Marcus in America. He spent most of his time in London, but back home he had a girlfriend, and her daughter lived with them. Things were not right between him and his girlfriend Maryon Britten - she was having an affair with his cousin Edwin Keynes. In London he had a new girlfriend - Nina Walling, an actress sleeping her way to the top. He had told his old girlfriend that he was changing his will, and she should clear off. His death meant she stayed where she was, and inherited most of his estate. In London, Oscar Walling, his new girlfriend's father, who had been his financial adviser, had cheated him out of 50k, and he was going to the police. So someone in London benefitted greatly from his murder too. Gently directs operations at home and in London, and we follow events as they unfold. There is quite a climax when Gently closes in on the murderer, and sadly Nero, a police dog, gets shot. So all in all, a strong story. One good feature of the story was that Gently had solved a motor bike gang crime here some ten years earlier, and we meet Ivan Webster again. He had been a minor member of the gang, and still spoke in a terrible hip, with it, slang I hated first time round, and still hated in the reprise.

Gently still drives his Lotus, but otherwise there is nothing in the way of a back story. What about Dutt, or Gently's girlfriend ? No news. Hunter has been such a disappointment.

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The Unhung Man,     (1984)

I read this book in January, 2020.

This is about book 31 in Alan Hunter's Superintendent George Gently series. It's about a year and a half since I last read a book in this series - book 21. I didn't take to the writers overly pastoral, nature notes style of writing, although the stories were mostly OK.

I chanced upon book 31 in the series - "The Unhung Man" - and thought why not, for old times sake ? Happily I have found this book OK, I liked the story but I could sense Alan Hunter longed to be more flowery with descriptions of hedgerows, meadows, flowers, etc.

The story opens with two unnamed people meeting after a long time apart. They had been childhood sweethearts, but they lost touch when the man emigrated many years ago. Now they meet again.

We later discover that the unnamed woman is hanging judge Pewsey's wife, and the man a South African chap called Stone, back farming in the UK, but down on his luck and rootless.

Judge Pewsey is found dead, shot in his summer house. Was it an accident ? Fingerprints are taken , and one is found by pure chance to be that of a Mr Cleeve - who was hanged years ago. How could Cleeve still be alive ? He was hanged,and buried, and it was judge Pewsey's summing up that persuaded the jury to find Cleeve guilty. Had he survived, and returned years later to get revenge ?

There is a poacher witness of sorts to a man leaving the summer house in a hurry. Were Stone and Mrs Pewsey lovers, rekindling their childhood romance ? Was Stone really Cleeve ? Or was there another man on the scene ?

Gently is despatched to sort it out, but politics mean it would best if the suggestion that an innocent man was not only hanged, but survived - if that story could just go away. And so it does, in the end, as Gently does the right thing.

There is only a passing reference to Dutt in this story. There is no Brenda Merryn, who was his companion up to book 21. Now in book 31 he is with another lady friend called Gabrielle, who is choosing curtains for their bedroom. Obviously much has happened in Gently's private life in the interim. Maybe I will come across another book in the series, give it a go, and find out - but I won't seek it out.

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